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I, Pirate

How I went to the dark side

Disclaimer: The following is a fiction, all liability discarded - or so I hope.

I used to buy CDs when it comes to acquiring music. I do not do it much anymore, even though I haven't completely stopped. The new distribution I use is called P2P. Why?

I discovered P2P with Napster, just when I left college. It was reasonnably clumsy and it was honestly quite a bit of work to find worthy music on the network. Truncated MP3s were legion, and low bitrates didn't encourage one to download much. I did download much (in the hundreds of albums), but I barely kept anything from this period. However, it was an almost perfect preview tool. At that time, I almost never bought a CD I hadn't previewed through Napster.

I can say with an absolute certainty that Napster increased the revenue I gently let flow from myself to the RIAA affiliates.

But from the instability of the first implementation, legion of P2P networks flourished. Gnutella was full of promises, but I never quite could download anything out of it. Technical difficulties... Kazaa was great, but it was quickly loaded with *#~$ware. As of today, a few are worthy of a second look. Amongst them are Emule and BitTorrent.

And the deal is different, in that one can "acquire" an album at a great quality (at least 192kbps) in a few minutes - hours for the rarest tracks. That is when I started downloading stuff that I actually kept. No more buying involved for the distribution was stunningly convenient - and the shortcomings of the Napster era gone. A new distribution scheme was born, and I was firmly decided to stick to it. The convenience of having anything available just a few clicks and a few minutes away was too great of an advantage over the Tower Records model.

As a personal note here, I will add that this period was coupled with a great change in my personal life: Three kids in 20 month. The free time I used to have to go shopping for music vanished almost entirely.

At that time I started looking for alternatives. While the convenience of not having to pay is a definitive advantage - and I don't mind doing it from time to time - relying exclusively on that have moral implications that disturbs me a bit. Be reassured, I sleep well at night. But I also like to do the "Good Thing"™ when possible. So I looked for alternatives.

Well, the look was quick. There are three:

  1. iTunes &, co. These are the "DRM" stores, approved by the RIAA and distributing RIAA content. Well, I happen to use Windows Media Center at home. So buying music from iTunes will prevent me from playing my music in my living room. Hmmm, I think I'll pass. Then again, I have an iPod I listen to every day while going to work. So buying from any other store will also be a problem, since I will not be able to listen to my (or should I say their) music on my iPod. Thanks to DRM, the "regular" stores are out of the way.
  2. Indy labels. While I think this alternative might one day overcome the DRM stores - by sheer interoperability - I haven't had a lot of time to dig into indy music to find stuff I like. And the lack of public performance and distribution makes that step necessary before I start buying.
  3. allofmp3.com. Well, all the RIAA are on their back, so I think they would not define it as being "legal" in my home country. So much for it.

So all in all, the fabulous distribution medium I had found with P2P is still widely unmatched by any "legal" alternative. And now that I have set foot in it, I find that it is highly addictive.

So, will I be a pirate for long? I hope not. These are not values I want to teach my kids - nor do I want to live with them for too long - so it will have to stop in a while. I still have some margin though, I can cope with being a pirate a bit longer.

The late RIAA's actions tend to indicate that they do not want this new medium to be matched any time soon. So all in all, I have two alternatives to that:

  • Break my addiction. This will be a painful process and I see no strong compelling reason to do so...
  • Have a serious look into indy labels. How funny that the RIAA itself drove me to that unique alternative.

So the problem, and I don't think I am the only one in this situation, is very simple. P2P showed a new distribution model that is a revolution. And it is nobody's fault: it was bound to be invented. Instead of embracing it, the RIAA and affiliates are doing their very best to destroy it, hide it and make it illegal. The negative approach. Instead, they could have embraced it and have benefited from its dynamic.

Of course, a starving student will prefer downloading for free instead of paying. But he wouldn't have bought in any case. So it is maybe better to let him get accustomed to plenty of music, so that when he'll be a tad richer he can at least buy some stuff. Suing him will benefit no one, and certainly not the artists.

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